I’m about to go for a ride in a Yaris.
I’ve driven a Yaris before. It belongs to my housemate, and it’s got a pillow on the drivers’ seat so she can see over the dash.
But the car I’m looking at is about as far from that as you can get while still calling it a Yaris.
For a start, it’s got 224kW and 420Nm on tap, and that gets directed to all four wheels. Those wheels are wrapped in some serious tyres, and those tyres rarely see use on tarmac.
It’s Harry Bates’ Toyota Yaris AP4 rally car, and I’m about to jump in for a hot lap on a rainy day on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour, NSW.
The chosen place for this ride-along is Wedding Bells, which is both a rally stage and shakedown location used by WRC drivers during Rally Australia. It’s the day after the event, so the track is in shreds.
Harry welcomes me into the car and shakes my hand, double checking that I work for MOTOR before asking me (via helmet headset) how everything’s been. He’s a lot calmer than I am at this point.
His co-driver, John McCarthy, makes sure I’m secure in the seat he’s usually occupying before we exchange a thumbs up.
Even at idle, the car sounds monstrous. It’s only a 1.6-litre turbo four under the hood, but it’s eager to propel the car at Harry’s right-foot command.
As we leave the makeshift paddock, a yard which was full of spectators 20-or-so hours prior, Harry warns me that it’s particularly slippery on the course today.
I’m not sure quite what I’m expecting to feel, but as we turn onto a straight and Harry opens up the throttle, I work it out pretty quickly.
The amount of traction an AWD car can generate on the road is one thing, but put the right tyres on it and it’ll fly along mud you’d barely be able to walk across without falling A-over-H.
Uphill, gravity and a very loose surface are working against Bates, but his keen judgement and quick responses are keeping the car as straight as it can be in this situation.
The first corner is approaching, and I’m looking straight ahead at it as the car turns in just before the bend. We slide around in a muddy drift, and Harry straightens it back up.
Though I’m happy to call Harry a gun driver (and I’m sure he knows it), having a new car has made this year a challenge. Electronics issues plagued the AP4 at Rally SA upon its debut, and subsequent engine trouble has meant Harry’s ARC hopes were not fulfilled this year.
Once the car is sorted and its niggling issues are smoothed out, the Yaris is going to be a proper weapon.
Though as we launch into the air at the top of a hill, I’m reminded that it’s still no slacker. Another corner taken sideways, and I’m silently laughing to myself at how much fun this is.
The transition between all four wheels hooking up with the mud and then becoming slide-happy hoops of rubber is so smooth.
The other very obvious difference between this car and almost any other car I’ve been in is the suspension. It’s fitted with remote-reservoir dampers, which are designed for off-roading for extended periods.
They’re still stiff enough to stay tied down, but with enough travel that landing after a jump won’t shatter your spine.
In the short time I spent as Harry’s passenger, we got air twice, and both times we landed without me requiring a trip to the physio.
Harry Bates (right) and co-driver John McCarthy
One thing I noticed was that, since it’s common for the wheels to occasionally lose traction, you hear the rev-limiter more regularly than you might expect. No complaints from this passenger.
Putting into words the feeling of such rapid movement along roads usually reserved for slow-moving 4X4s is difficult, it’s such a different kind of speed to anything you’ll experience on-road.
Read more MOTOR features
“Sorry it wasn’t very quick out there,” he says to me when we pull up back at the tent, “I prefer it when the ground’s a bit dryer.”
I didn’t think it was slow at all.